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Cable television and Copyright Laws



Have your parents ever told you about the time when DD National was the only channel they got and how only one of the well to do family had a television set and they would all gather at their place to watch a fresh episode of Mahabharat? The beginning of use of cable television can be traced even before this time. In fact, DD is known as the new age of cable television in India. Cable TV has always played a big part in our lives and they still do. Even now, if a cricket match is on and especially if it is an India-Pakistan match, people will literally leave all their work and will be glued to the “idiot box” the entire time. Now a days tv is not only used for entertainment, but also for spreading news and products (yes, I am talking about Naptol). How did television become such a big part of our lives? How did it all start? And how are creators protecting the shows/news or the information that they are imparting through this box?  Let’s learn about it step by step.

The evolution of TV

The era of television, in India, began as an experiment under the authority of All India Radio (AIR) in 1959. The programs that were broadcasted were generally informative for students and farmers. Although it was confined to big cities like Delhi and Mumbai only at that time, then in around 1970s, it was extended to other states as well. In 1976, Doordarshan was launched and it changed the game altogether. Doordarshan has enjoyed a monopoly over television for a long time. Every show that was broadcasted on the tv broadcast on DD only. Then around 1990s after agreement between Hongkong based satellite STAR (satellite television Asian region) and Indian companies, many different private channels also stepped into the business. Cable TV replaced the satellite broadcasting, which meant transmission of electromagnetic signals via wireless means that, when detected by appropriate equipment, can be transformed into sounds and visual images audible by and perceivable by human ears and eyes. In cable tv, each cable television set receives the signals through cable.The Cable Operators Federation of India is a national non-profit organization headquartered in New Delhi that represents both international and domestic Indian cable operators.

Ownership of television channel

After the gross abuse of television during the time of emergency, there was a demand for autonomy of television. And the growing business and the audience also resulted in need of a proper legislation to regulate television.

Although the television and media is regulated under different provisions such as “Freedom of speech”, “Defamation”, but the one main legislation that is used to regulate television is “The Copyright Act, 1957”. A broadcast is regarded the same as an original literary or theatrical work by copyright law, and is therefore subject to copyright.A special right known as “Broadcast Reproduction Right[1]” is conferred on every broadcasting organization by the copyright Act. This right subsists for 25 years. Under this right no other person without the authority of the owner can either rebroadcast or make any recording of the broadcast or earn commercial benefits by selling or renting the audio or visual from the broadcast.

Although, the copyright owner has been given rights to rebroadcast. Rebroadcasting through cable is basically, where the cable is instantly retransmitted by a broadcast inside the receiving region, the behavior does not violate the broadcast since the broadcast is not encrypted or via satellite; nor does it infringe any work discovered in broadcasting.

Courts on copyright and cable television

  1. LIC v. Manubhai Shah[2], 1992, court recognized the right to broadcast. It granted the right to broadcast to the respondent. The respondent was refused to broadcast his documentary film based on Bhopal gas tragedy.
  2. Video Master v. Nishi Productions[3], 1997 –The Plaintiff claimed that it was granted the exclusive and exclusive video copyrights in the cinematographic film [Bees Saal Baad] in this case, by the film’s producer, the Defendant, under an agreement. It was claimed that the Defendant had entered into an agreement with another distributor in which they were given a copy of the film, which was then used to produce cassettes for satellite TV transmission.

The court held, (i) Under the Copyright Act, copyrights in cable television and satellite broadcasting are two distinct rights that can exist in different people without infringing on each other’s copyright. (ii) There was no violation of the Plaintiff’s exclusive video copyright of receiving satellite signals on a dish antenna owned/maintained by a Cable TV operator or a private party and relaying signals to viewers through Cable media.

  • Garware Plastics and Polysters Ltd. v. Telelink[4]1989– This decision established that screening a film on a cable television network constituted a public broadcast of the film.

The court applied the three tests in this case:

  1. Whether or not a communication is public or private is mostly determined by the people who receive it.The communications arein the public if they may be classified as the general public or a segment of the general public.
  2. Customers of a Cable network, or those who receive such broadcasts using a dish antenna to which their tv screens are linked, are either occupants of flats in a building with such a network, or occupants of a neighborhood that is served by this facility.


[2]1993 AIR 171

[3] MANU/MH/0093/1997

[4]AIR 1989 Bom 331

  1. As a result, communicating a film via cable television constitutes a broadcast of the film, and the defendants were infringing on the film’s copyright.


By all this discussion, one thing is for certain that the entertainment is industry is rapidly advancing. With OTT platforms booming with covid, the future of cable tv seems blurry. And with this it also clear that India’s copyright laws need plenty of changes to be up to date with where the cable tv is headed. The law for the protection broadcast rights in India does no good except forreverberating its commitments at the international level. However, by providing certainpositive exclusive rights to the broadcasters, it is still in a better position than the law inthe United States which only confers certain rights to sue for infringement and positiverights are blatantly lacking.


Contributed by:– Nidhi Jha, Legal intern at LLL

 Cable television and Copyright Lawsevolution of TVOwnership of television channel

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